Getty
Show Hide image

The effects of the Mancession, why Labour should move north, and my summer of Corbyn

It’s encouraging to hear Labour is moving its HQ away from Westminster, but it would be even better if it moved north.

Three is apparently the magic number when it comes to predicting another global financial apocalypse. Fears of an impending collapse have been ignited by an IMF stability report that cited a “triad” of risks – instability and recession in emerging economies, growing burdens of debt and discord in the eurozone, and fragility in global markets – that combine to offer a telling insight into when the world economy might tank once more. The Bank of England’s chief policymaker, Andy Haldane, has also argued that the emerging-market crisis of 2015 can best be understood as “Credit Crunch: Part Three” (part two being the eurozone wobble of 2014).

Crunchtime

Having spent recent weeks on the road promoting my book Crunch Lit, which examines the impact of the 2008 crash on culture, I think these claims can seem nothing if not a bit predictable. Indeed, given the lack of change since 2007-2008, it’s remarkable that talk of a third-wave financial crisis has taken this long to emerge. We are suffering from a global debt hangover, and no number of credit-bought bacon sandwiches can make it all better. Booms and busts are a cyclical, symptomatic feature of the failure of contemporary capitalism. Many of the toxic practices and cultures that characterised the 2008 crisis not only remain but have been compounded by an over-reliance on anticipated growth in markets (such as China) that has veiled broader economic weaknesses. Although sequels are notoriously ropy, present signals suggest that Credit Crunch III could be every bit as edge-of-the-seat scary as parts one and two.

No Womancession

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 was widely dubbed the “Mancession” as a reflection of the male-dominated composition of the banking sector. Since the crunch, many female financial leaders have united in calling for reform and review. The lethal testosterone of the pre-2007 banking sector even led some to speculate that if women had occupied more top positions in economics and politics, the credit crunch might never have happened. This is why I’m so encouraged by the creation of the Virago/New Statesman Women’s Prize for Politics and Economics, which will be awarded to a new female writer on economics or politics who shows originality and rigorous thinking. Although the irony of a publication called the New Statesman offering this intervention will not be lost on some, the prize nevertheless intends to identify, encourage and promote women writing in male-dominated fields, and will have a judging panel comprising three women and one man. Writings on economics and politics are a reflection of the worlds they capture, worlds in which women remain relatively invisible.

Red Kensington

As a recent returnee to northern climes (I’m originally from Newcastle), I was encouraged to hear that Labour has decided to relocate its HQ outside Westminster. Currently based in Brewer’s Green – a five-minute walk from parliament – the party is being forced to move because of the commercial redevelopment of its rented premises. Yet in a move that would astound even Kirstie Allsopp, it has decided to pick up sticks and move to the Conservative stronghold of Kensington. The average house price in Kensington is £1.4m, and (with an awkward serendipity) the republican Labour leader will now have the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as his neighbours.

As the move is only temporary, I’d like to use this article to issue an open invitation for the party to head north. The IPPR think tank claims the north is suffering from “devo-disarray”, and who can blame it? In recent months, 38 different cities and regions have submitted bids for more powers but without any sense of what these might be or how it might happen. Giving parliament and parliamentary parties a physical base and presence beyond the capital would be an important step towards figuring it out.

Party up north

Thanks to the post-crash property bubble, northern cities are littered with unoccupied and competitively priced office space. As a self-confessed fan of trains, Jeremy Corbyn will know that Leeds and Manchester are little more than two hours from the capital. So, is it time for Labour to move north? In an
era of austerity and devolution, such a move would address not only cost issues, but also an ongoing tension between the experience of the 99 per cent of the UK and the 1 per cent of Westminster. Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, has called for the creation of a “Northern Powerhouse” in which “the daughter of a cleaner from Kingstone in my constituency will have the same opportunities as the son of a barrister from Kingston-upon-Thames”. But this new “SuperNorth” rhetoric will become a reality only when one of the two main parties takes action to prove that you don’t have to live and work within the M25 to direct debates about the future of the whole country.

Momentum in time

It’s been nearly six months since Corbyn was thrust into the spotlight as a late game-changer in the Labour leadership election. Chairing his Northern Futures campaign policy launch in Leeds back in June, I witnessed the effect his new approach to politics has on young people: very rarely have I had to admonish students for trying to break into a political rally.

Now Jeremy’s urgent challenge is to maintain momentum, not just in the shape of the newly formed Labour organisation of the same name but also in offering workable alternatives. Immigration, the economy and security will define the teenage years of this century, and now is the time to see original interventions from a leader who, this summer, inspired all those of us in search of something different.

Katy Shaw is principal lecturer in contemporary literature at Leeds Beckett University. Her book “Crunch Lit” is published by Bloomsbury

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496